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,n                                                                                                     B. POLEVOI
sat down now he would never get up again. He cast a
longing glance around him. By the roadside stood a
voung, curly pine tree. Mustering his last ounce of
strength, Alexei stepped towards it and flung himself
upon it. His chin rested on the fork of the branches.
This took some of the weight off his fractured feet and
he felt a little relief. He leaned against the springy
branches and enjoyed the repose. Wishing to make
himself more comfortable, he stretched one leg and then
the other, still keeping his chin on the fork of the tree,
and his feet, completely relieved of the weight of his
body, were easily lifted out of the snow-drift. A brilliant
idea struck him.
"Why, of course! It would be easy to cut down this
small tree, lop off the branches, leaving the fork, throw
the staff forward, rest my chin on the fork and transfer
the weight of my body to it, and then throw my feet for-
ward, just as I am doing now. It will be slow going.
Yes, slow, of course, but I won't get so tired, and I will
be able to push on without having to wait until the
snow-drifts harden."
He dropped to his knees, cut the young tree down
with his dirk, lopped off the branches, wound his pocket
handkerchief and bandages round the crutch and
set off at once. He threw the staff forward, rested his
hands and chin upon the fork, put one foot forward
and then the other, threw the staff forward again and
took another two steps forward. And so he kept on,
counting the paces and fixing a new rate of progress for
No doubt an onlooker would have thought it strange
to see a man wandering through the dense forest in this
queer fashion, moving over deep snow-drifts at a snail's
pace, pushing on from sunrise to sunset and covering no
more than five kilometres. But the only witnesses of this
strange proceeding were the magpies; and having con-
vinced themselves of the utter harmlessness of this
strange three-legged, clumsy animal, they did not fly
away at his approach, but merely hopped reluctantly out
of his ^ way, cocked their heads and gazed mockingly at
him with their black, inquisitive, beady eyes.